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Five Habits for Parents to Raise Happy, Resilient Children

Although parenting can feel like a challenge some days, small shifts can make a big difference.

Whenever I begin working with a family in therapy, I often talk to the parents about their goals for their child throughout the course our treatment together. One of the most common things I hear from parents is “I just want to raise happy and well-rounded children so they feel confident in the world.”

Some days that is easier said than done, right? Parenting is beautiful and parenting is hard. With all of life’s demands, (often) two working parents, and a mountain of afterschool activities, some days we are just keeping it together.

Although parenting can feel like a challenge some days, small shifts can make a big difference. Taking small steps to create new habits to foster connection and resilience in your children can make an insurmountable change in the home.  

In my work with families, I have identified five core habits that help families stay connected, strong and resilient in the world. Here are the five habits that you can bring into your home, too!

Create Moments of Connection 

Your connection with your child is what feeds them. When your child feels deeply connected to you, they feel more secure, happy, and confident. They are able to navigate the big world full of challenges from a place of inner strength knowing that they have you as a secure base at home.

Creating moments of connection can look different depending on your child’s needs and preference for connection. In general, for younger children, 15-20 minutes of undivided attention and play time daily is a strong way to build a strong connection. For older children, this can lessen to three to five times per week. Their undivided time with you lets them know that you are present fully and enjoy just being present with them.

Other ways to create a strong connection is by simply ‘seeing’ your child. These small moments of presence can be created in various ways including listening deeply, validating their feelings, learning what they love, asking what is hard for them, noticing their actions, attuning to their feelings, or laughing together. These are all small ways for your child to feel connection in a deeper way.

Build Frustration Tolerance

Helping your child build frustration tolerance is a key habit to help them build resilience. When a child can tolerate the natural frustrations of life (because there are many!), they will approach new challenging situations with the confidence that they can tolerate the discomfort of them.

The number one way parents can help their children build frustration tolerance is by not stepping in too soon. Often, our gut response as adults is to jump in a ‘fix’ the problem when a child looks like they are struggling. Although counter-intuitive, allowing them to struggle through the process helps them become more resilient.  

For instance, when a child learns how to dress themselves, it’s hard! They must find the armholes, put their arm through and fit it over their growing heads. Often, they will struggle through it and in the end, feel proud of their accomplishment of learning a new skill. Taking that struggle away for them oftentimes leaves them helpless to figure it out on their own.

One of my favorite phrases to use is, “I’m here if you need help with that.” That way, the child can choose to ask you for help when they are ready and have tolerated the amount of frustration they can.

Foster the Growth Mindset

Teaching your children how to grow from life’s challenges and mistakes is a crucial way they learn to feel confident and resilient. When parents model the growth mindset, children learn that life is full of challenges, but in those challenges are ways to grow and learn.

For instance, eager children will often take on tasks they want to master to naturally build confidence. The eager five-year-old who wants to try pouring their own milk in their cereal will often struggle or spill the milk because they’re not sure how yet. Instead of taking the milk and pouring it for them, which is such a natural reaction, you can teach them the lesson. 

Say something like, “That looks like a big challenge for you!  It’s just a ‘whoopsies’ that the milk spilled. How about I teach you how to pour the milk?” From this perspective, the child learns that mistakes (spilling the milk) aren’t mistakes, they are ways that we learn and grow.

Give Choices 

When working with kids, I often ask them “What’s the hardest part about being a kid?” Their response is often, “Being told what to do.” Makes sense, right?!  No one likes to be told what to do!

One way to give children more power and help them build resilience is by giving them age-appropriate choices. It also shows them that you trust their ability to decide for themselves. Saying something like, “I know you know what’s the best outfit for you to wear to school tomorrow. Can you choose what you would like to wear and put it on your bed for tomorrow morning?” Using these phrases helps your child decide how to align with themselves and what they want.

Give and Receive Appreciation 

Appreciation is one of the biggest keys to happiness and resilience. When your child feels appreciated, they feel seen and known by you. They are able to go out into the world knowing that they will come home to someone who finds joy in them.

One way you can begin practicing appreciation in your home is to make a gratitude jar. Give your child the job of decorating a jar or box in a way the family loves. Each day, each family member writes one thing they are grateful for and puts it in the box or jar. At the end of the week, the family shares special time together going through the jar and talking about what they appreciated during that week.

Another way families can practice appreciation is by creating rituals around sharing what each family member appreciates about another. Every few days, parents can share a few things they appreciate about each child and the child can share things they appreciate about the parent. Partners can also share what they appreciate in one another, which shows the children a strong marital bond.

We are always a work in progress. Some of these habits you may feel strong in, and others could use some work. Be kind to yourself as you are growing as a parent and learning new habits. Parenting is beautiful and parenting is hard. Both the beautiful and hard aspects of it are always welcomed.

What are some ways these habits are already in your home? In which areas could these habits be used more? Where are you struggling most with these? I’d love to hear about them! Leave a comment below to discuss more!

Through her practice Playfully Me, Kellie Cathey provides individual and family therapy to help families discover how to connect more deeply, set kind and firm limits, and become more in touch with each person's needs. www.kelliecatheyplay.com